A discussion prompted by yesterday’s blog post, which recounted, among other things, how Joe Biden used the ‘fire in a crowded theater’ trope to justify gun restrictions, led to a suggestion that the trope be retired.

I disagreed then, and still do, 24 hours later. Shocked face, I know, but nevertheless…

As I noted in the post, you can yell fire in a theater. If there’s a fire. And, truth be told, you can even get away with doing so if there’s not a fire, as long as no harm (physical or economic) comes to others. Heck, a comedian on a stage could do so ironically, get some laughs, and thus enhance his career and future income from the reputation boost.

It is precisely because the trope is misused that we should embrace it. Leftist agitator Saul Alinsky tells us the how and why in his Rules for Radicals, in particular:

3: Whenever possible go outside the expertise of the enemy.
4: Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.

If someone who wants to restrict gun rights brings up the theater analogy, he offers you a golden opportunity to play the Alinsky cards. Point out that the analogy doesn’t make the point he thinks, and flip it on its head. We don’t pre-emptively restrict speech. Instead, we punish individuals who misuse it to violate the rights of others. Likewise, we aren’t justified in preemptively restricting gun rights, and instead should focus on punishing those who misuse them to violate the rights of others.

In my experience, many rights-restrictors like to play hit-and-run “gotcha” games, and don’t expect to have their words used against them. So, it can be particularly effective (at least for the third parties who witness the exchanges – they are the real targets of your arguments and rebuttals) to take the wind out of someone’s words (yes, I’m corrupting metaphors), and it’s worthwhile analyzing those oft-repeated cliches for such opportunities.

Another of my favorites in this vein is the Robin Hood trope that ‘he stole from the rich to give to the poor.’ Sir Robin of Locksley was one of the Good Guys of legend, and his purported behavior is used to support arguments that the rich come by their wealth unjustly and that forcible redistribution is moral.

But, Robin did not actually do as purported in that aphorism. He took back what the tax man squeezed out of the poor tenant farmers, at the point of a sword and pike. That the tax man was also the sheriff, aka local police, is a juicy bit of bonus for those who object to today’s poor being treated as revenue sources by endlessly greedy politicians in our big cities.

So, rather than him being a poster child for redistribution, he’s actually a an anarcho-libertarian hero, and the poster child for “Taxation Is Theft.” He fought against excessive taxation, government coercion, and injustice, and his actions were a condemnation of repressive government, not of wealth and success.

These are certainly not the only cliches or cultural references that can be corrected for good effect. In adjusting our thinking and comprehension in order to challenge what’s long been assumed, we will find more opportunities to “Alinsky” the statists and redistributionists who want to impose their will on us and bend our liberties to their whims.

Finally, it’s worth remembering another Rule For Radicals, should your collectivist counterpart get snippy:

5: Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.

It should be used sparingly, but there are times when a good Algonquin Round Table-style skewering can be absolutely devastating to someone’s arguments.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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